Kill the Win

What did we learn about Reds pitchers in 2016?

The Reds pitching staff has been largely terrible in 2016. A whopping 31 pitchers (and Tyler Holt) took the mound for the club, allowing an MLB record 251 home runs (as of Tuesday night) and posting a collective 0.0 fWAR as a group, the third-worst mark in baseball history.

While the overall numbers make it look like a dumpster fire of a season, there are plenty of things to take away. As the regular season winds to a close, let’s take a look at some of the things we learned about the Reds pitchers.

Brandon Finnegan can hack it as a starter

As the only pitcher to start and finish the season in the rotation, it seems natural to start with Finnegan. In his first full season as a starter, the southpaw has tossed 172 innings and posted a 3.98 ERA. Yes, his walks are a concern — his 11.4 BB% trails only Francisco Liriano among 77 qualified starters — as are the number of home runs he allowed (1.52 per nine innings, the seventh-highest rate in baseball), but there are reasons to be optimistic.

Finnegan’s changeup has improved significantly, leading to an increase in strikeouts as the season has gone along. Before this development, it would’ve been fairly easy to write him off as a starter, as he was also among the worst starters in the league at striking hitters out (16.9 K%) through August. Accordingly, his ERA (4.68), FIP (5.72), and xFIP (5.18) were all pretty bad, too. But since the calendar turned to August, Finnegan has been much better, striking out 26.2 percent of the hitters he’s faced en route to a 2.47 ERA, 4.02 FIP, and 4.22 xFIP.

Given his late-season improvement, Finnegan seems like a lock to be in the rotation when the 2017 season begins. It’s entirely possible that his control problems will force him to the bullpen if other young pitchers are knocking down the door, but for now, he’s earned the spot he’s in.

Anthony DeSclafani showed top-of-the-rotation potential

It took more than two months for DeSclafani to finally take the mound in a big-league game. Despite this, he’ll end the season leading the Reds’ pitching staff in fWAR (1.9). Disco picked up right where he left off in 2015, posting a 3.38 ERA, 3.99 FIP, and 3.94 xFIP to this point while improving both his strikeout (21.1%) and walk rate (5.8%) from his rookie season. He is also the only Reds pitcher to toss a complete-game shutout this season.

While his strikeout numbers are merely league average for now, his walk rate is far better than that. Although his recent struggles have regressed his numbers a bit, his improved overall control has been the most encouraging aspect of his season. Only 26 of 133 pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched have walked a lower percentage of hitters.

There is certainly room for Disco to get better (pitching against left-handed hitters and allowing fewer home runs would be at the top of the list), but he is easily one of the team’s top two starting pitchers alongside Homer Bailey. If DeSclafani can stay healthy throughout 2017, it’s reasonable to expect him to get even better and continue emerging as a legitimate No. 1 or 2 starter.

Dan Straily has carved out a future in Cincinnati

The Reds really couldn’t have expected much more from Straily after claiming him off waivers just before the season started. Initially regarded as a bullpen piece, he has wound up second on the team in starts (30) and first in innings pitched (185.1), becoming the workhorse “innings eater” that Alfredo Simon (who is still, unfathomably, employed by the organization) was originally supposed to be.

Sure, the peripheral numbers suggest Straily hasn’t been quite as good as his 3.74 ERA would indicate, but it’s hard to be displeased with the performance he’s given the club. While he may get pushed out of the rotation by more talented pitchers at some point, the 27-year-old has certainly earned his spot for the foreseeable future. If he doesn’t stick in the rotation, he could prove to be a valuable reliever and spot starter capable of throwing 100+ innings per season. Not too bad for a waiver-wire claim.

The young guns aren’t quite ready

Everyone came into the season excited to see some of the organization’s top young pitching prospects finally get their first taste of the big leagues. Highly touted hurlers Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed both made their big-league debuts, but didn’t have quite the results they, or Reds fans, hoped for.

Stephenson, as has been the case throughout his career, hasn’t been able to find the plate far too often. He’s walking 9.3 percent of the hitters he’s faced while striking out just 18 percent. Throw in more than two home runs per nine innings and you’ve got a 6.27 ERA, 6.68 FIP, and 5.37 xFIP. While he has certainly shown flashes of his potential and clearly has outstanding raw staff (his fastball, curveball, and changeup could all be plus pitches), the former first-round draft pick has a long way to go if he’s ever going to fulfill the expectations many had for him. Unless he blows everyone away in spring training, Triple-A seems like his likely destination to begin 2017.

Reed had just as tough a time in his 10 starts, with a 7.36 ERA, 6.05 FIP, and 4.29 xFIP. As Nick Carrington pointed out, his fastball got absolutely crushed — quite possibly due to a long delivery and low arm angle — as he allowed 10 home runs on the pitch. Control was also an issue (8.3 BB%) for the left-hander at times and he also didn’t strike out many batters (18.3 K%). Still, there’s not as much reason to be concerned with him as there is with Stephenson and his wildness. At the very least, Reed had a good season in the minors, while Stephenson did not. Reed should have a decent shot at making the back end of the Opening Day rotation next year if he can make some adjustments.

There are a long line of pitchers who have struggled in their first taste of the major leagues and have gone on to become successful. That doesn’t guarantee Stephenson and Reed will join that group, but it does provide some reassurance that their initial performance isn’t necessarily what we’ll see in the future.

The bullpen is still a giant question mark

The worst, most unwatchable aspect of the Reds was easily the bullpen. Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen brought some stability to the group, but there weren’t many other standouts. If those two don’t end up starting, they’re the only locks to be back next year as the relief corps could be in for another overhaul.

Blake Wood (3.95 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 3.88 xFIP) has a decent case for a spot next year should the team choose to re-sign him. His high strikeout (24.1%) and ground-ball (53.3%) rates are the pros, while the unsightly walk rate (11.4%) is the overwhelming con.

Though he’s been largely terrible this season, Tony Cingrani also figures to be back. His numbers have gotten worse every year (shoulder troubles haven’t helped his cause) and his 3.8 K-BB% ranks ranks 309th out of 318 pitchers with 50 or more innings. But he’s only 27 and probably won’t cost much in arbitration. If (and that’s a big if) he can regain his previous form, he could still end up being a pretty good reliever, so it wouldn’t be surprising for the Reds to hold on to him.

Aside from that, it’s anybody’s guess as to what the ‘pen will look like next season. None of the call-ups throughout the season have been particularly impressive and most will be getting DFA’d as the Reds clear space on the 40-man roster. Simon, Ross Ohlendorf, and J.J. Hoover will also be out of the picture, in all likelihood.

While young starting pitching prospects like Stephenson, Reed, and others could end up in the bullpen eventually, it’s hard to see the Reds putting them there instead of sending them to the minors if they don’t make the rotation to begin 2017.

Whether the Reds bring in outside help, turn to current minor leaguers like Zack Weiss (who missed all of 2016), or throw together a hodgepodge of pitchers like Caleb Cotham, Josh Smith, Keyvius Sampson, and Jumbo Diaz, it’ll be interesting to see what the group looks like. But whatever happens, the bullpen won’t be as bad as it was in April and May of this year, right? Right? Hello?

18 thoughts on “What did we learn about Reds pitchers in 2016?

  1. The lack of evolution in the pitching staff has been THE most disturbing aspect of the 2016 season, especially since that was THE most important need going into to 2016 season. We knew that there would be failures (at least initially) from the young pitchers, but we expected (hoped) for some progress in identifying long-term prospects for the major league starting and bullpen staff. The rash of injuries pretty much made the 2016 season a lost season for pitcher development and evaluation, other than identifying that the Reds may now have more questions related to the pitching staff going into the 2017 season than they did going into the 2016 season. Shoot, we don’t even have a reasonable expectation that Bailey will pitch or pitch effectively in 2017.

    Deep breath and exhale…

    • It would have been interesting to see how we would view the development of pitchers if Iglesias, DeSclafani, and Lorenzen would have been healthy all year. Iglesias and Lorenzen would have been in the rotation. I wonder what a 2016 rotation of Iglesias, Lorenzen, Straily, DeSclafani, and Finnegan would have produced. Guessing much better than what we got.

    • I ultimately see Stephenson as a starter, maybe warming up in the bullpen before he starts.

  2. I trust the new GM will not give Reds fans a hodgepodge bullpen in 2017. After having Chapman around, the last few years has been a nightmare except for the past few months of Lorenzen and Iglesias. The Reds now have the making of a good offense with Votto, Duvall, Schebler, Suarez, Peraza, and Mesoraco. Perhaps the FO will spend some money or make a trade in the off-season to get another bona fide starting pitcher to go with DeSclafani and Straily.

  3. Aside from Iglesias and Lorenzen, the bullpen will need 5-7 new faces in 2017. No Wood. No Cingrani. No Ohlendorf. No Jumbo. No Hoover. No Sampson. No Smith. No Peralta.
    Lamb and Moscot should be able to pitch one inning without walking a leadoff batter or giving up a HR to the first batter they face. Now 3 new faces are needed. If Jocketty was still the GM, next spring there would have been 15 pitchers signed on minor league contracts that none would have made the team.
    A new GM. A new bullpen paradigm.

    • As usual, on board with your takes, but don’t you think half of the pitchers mentioned in the article will make up the pen eventually. It’s simply numbers. I have some optimism for a pen with Iglesius, Lorenzen, Finnegan, and two of the combo of Strailey, Stephenson, Reed or Garrett. Heck, there are 3 guys in the AA rotation I could see in the pen by the end of the year.

  4. No mention of Lamb, who’s become a forgotten guy. I’d like to see what he can do fully healthy. Don’t think he ever was this year. And Garrett should be in the conversation in ST.

  5. I just don’t think everyone will agree with your first couple points. Finnegan would not have started 30 times for any other team, and his results don’t say solid starter. Strailey basically was not much better than Finnegan, which again is really only starter on a second division club. Ok, maybe he takes over the swing guy status (not much value). Disco showed top of the rotation stuff, but who’s rotation. Ideally Disco is a third starter on a playoff team. It’s not a complaint, just reality .

    • Why, because Finnegan won 12 games with an ERA under 4? You are saying that other teams won’t take that?

      Those are Straitly numbers and we are all liking Straily.

      I like Finnegan as a starter. Just like Straily, until we have someone come up through the system and knock him out of his starting role, he will be our #3 or #4.

      He walks a lot of guys but he competes. I think he can be a better pitcher in 2017 and I think that he thinks that too

    • Through August, I’d agree with you on Finnegan. He’d have been out of the rotation on some teams. But he made an adjustment and has shown improvement. That’s what you look for with 23-year-old pitchers — development. He has some work to do regarding the walks, but I think Reds fans can walk away happy with the progression Finnegan made this year.

      Right now, Disco is No. 3 caliber on a playoff team, sure. But keep in mind this is only his second full season and he’s already one of the better pitchers in the league in terms of control. With his strikeout numbers trending upward, that indicates to me that his command is getting better as well, which will only bode well in the future.

  6. The overall results of the current Reds pitching staff are among the worst, if not the worst, in team history. Some pitchers were better than others. Straily and DeSclafani were the best starters. Iglesias and Lorenzen the best relievers. After that it was a hope and a prayer. In many ways pitching was the biggest disappointment especially Stephenson and Reed who did not look anything like top prospects. They will get another chance in 2017. Garrett is up next.

  7. I’d flip Matt’s assessment of Stephenson and Reed.

    Stephenson is frustrating but shows signs he might be on the cusp of coming around. He looks a lot like the young Homer Bailey. He’s not doing well enough but neither is he really being hammered and run off the mound. Only time will tell if he comes around.

    Meanwhile Reed was just flat out disappointing and seems to be back at square one as far as being an MLB starter. By and large when he threw strikes he got hammered. Then added to his problem by losing the strike zone for extended periods.

    • My only issue with this comp is that Bailey was only 21 and 22 when he got his first 17 starts. Stephenson is making his debut at 23. No way you give up on a 23 year old with very good to excellent stuff though. I guess I just can’t figure out why his command is so erratic. His mechanics get a bit out of whack but no more so than Iglesias’. Stephenson really has no idea where the ball is going. Not sure how to fix that.

      • I thought the last inning RS pitched in game 162 may have been the most important inning he pitched all year. Goes into the inning with a 3-1 lead facing back end of the Cubs order with the regulars all still playing.

        Allows a run and still has 1st and 2nd with no outs. The pitcher “hit” for himself giving RS an easy first out but then he got Fowler and Bryant to close the inning with the lead intact at 3-2. And it appeared he actually struck Bryant out “twice” as Bryant got a very favorable ruling on a “checked” swing at 2-2; but then RS came back with an even better pitch at 3-2 to get the K and escape the inning.

        So, yes RS’s day was done after four innings because he’d been pitch inefficient; but; lost in that stat, he’d held the Cubs A team to 2 runs over 4 innings and made one heck of an escape in the 4th to do it. To me the only bad part in that was that he can’t be right back out on the mound in 5 days to keep on growing.

        • Yeah, I don’t get the people ready to say he’s a bust. I’m not sure how to fix the command issue but I’m pretty certain it can be fixed.

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